Sunday 28 August 2022

My Interview With Author Rita Lee Chapman

Rita Lee Chapman is a UK-born author now resident in Australia. She has written a number of books, including the popular Missing In… series inspired by her travels. Her titles are all available from her author page at Amazon. 

It was a joy to ponder and respond to her questions about my work, including the concept novel The Best Year Of Our Lives. The full text of my interview with Rita can be seen here.

Tuesday 19 July 2022

He Made Me Feel Like Dancing


 Not that dancing was ever really my thing. If you've heard the expression that a person dances as though they had two left feet - well, I dance like a guy with one left foot and no other. Indeed, only in moments of extreme intoxication have I ever even attempted it.

But that's by the by. Whenever I hear an upbeat, mid-1970s dance classic, of which there were so many, I dance in my head and wish I was back there, performing the moves that I lacked either the self-confidence or the co-ordination (probably both) to step out to at the time.

Leo Sayer's You Make Me Feel Like Dancing absolutely falls into that category. It was an iconic assertion of the carefree spirit which pervaded 1976 from start to finish, taking the then all-important singles charts by storm in the autumn of that year in defiance of the first rumblings of the punk revolution.

Post glam world of disco and dance

But to those of us who were veterans of the early '70s music scene, reborn into the post-glam world of disco and dance before any of us had even heard of John Travolta, this was but the latest incarnation of a likeable and talented artist who had first come to our attention in 1973 when he was featured on Top of the Pops in full pierrot costume performing his debut hit single The Show Must Go On. This original, slightly eccentric number was soon to be joined in my record collection by One Man Band and Moonlighting. I had no idea at the time that Sayer had also co-written another contemporary favourite of mine, Giving It All Away by Roger Daltrey.

You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, though, was something of a new departure. Whilst its predecessors had each told a story of its own - "a circus theme as a metaphor for dealing with the difficulties and wrong choices of life" (thanks Wikipedia!), a struggling street musician constantly avoiding the attentions of policemen and aggressive motorists, and two young lovers eloping to Gretna – this was a disco-facing love song pure and simple.

It wasn't a Leo Sayer song that I'd expected but for me it worked, not least because it tapped into emotions that I was going through at the time.

A rueful romantic ballad

The same must be said for his early 1977 follow-up When I Need You, a rueful romantic ballad which caught me just at a time when the magic that I'd known in '76 had started to fall apart for me, and when the consequences of decisions (or more precisely indecisions) that I'd made that year were just beginning to tear away at me.

Later hits performed in the same vein included How Much Love, Thunder in My Heart, I Can't Stop Loving You, Raining in My Heart and More Than I Can Say (was that last one really as late as 1980?). There was a unique, slightly boy-like melancholy to Sayer's voice which owned every hit, whether home-grown or cover.

Coming home

One of my all-time favourite Leo Sayer songs was actually recorded in the early 1980s - a decade which, in musical terms, was almost entirely lost to me as I pursued other, mostly destructive interests. Indeed I only heard Orchard Road for the first time a few years ago and, oddly, in my mind it took me back to the 1970s - or maybe to 1991, when briefly I touched base with some of my old friends from the youth club once again in an aberrant reunion which duly engendered its own nostalgia pangs over the course of time. The wayward lad had made the call and was surprised to learn that the welcome mat had been waiting for him all along. "I am coming home…", he sang triumphantly.

Back in the day I don't recall any of my peers having been Leo Sayer fans as such - not in the sense that they were Slade fans, Mud fans, T. Rex fans or of course David Bowie fans. And yet neither do I recall any of them ever having had a bad word to say about this compelling, perennial artist, whose singles were included aplenty amongst most of their burgeoning record collections. What was not to like about Leo Sayer?

Sweet memories

It's a blessing that Sayer, now domiciled in Australia, is still performing, and interacting faithfully with his many fans - old and new - on social media.

He has a UK tour coming up this autumn for which I'm canvassing company, hoping to recapture a few sweet memories as well as to maybe discover some of his newer material.

If the bar is cheap enough, I might even dance.

Sunday 26 June 2022

“A Mildly Terrifying Nostalgic Treat” - Taking a Humorous Look at the Cool but Deadly 1970s


Unrelenting nostalgics like myself do tend to look back to the 1970s through deeply rose-tinted spectacles.

So, in the interests of balance, let me draw your attention to this hilarious article from the British satirical website The Poke, listing what it says were 40 of the most deadly hazards that we somehow managed to survive during that decade, allowing us against all odds to live to tell the tale today.

I have to admit that, in retrospect, some of these send a shiver down my spine. But at the time it didn’t feel at all risky to suspend a bathroom ceiling heater over a tub full of water, nor to drunkenly attempt to carve the roast with an erratic electric carver which exercised a frankly astonishing display of freewill throughout the entire operation.

They could of course have mentioned the play park too.

Take a look by clicking here.


Wednesday 5 January 2022

The Best Year Of Our Lives and 1000 Memories of 1976 Now Available in Hardcover

Following the announcement by Amazon's KDP Publishing that it is now able to publish titles in hardcover, both The Best Year Of Our Lives and 1000 Memories of 1976 are now available for purchase in this exciting new format.

I have deliberately kept the prices as low as possible (although Amazon itself seems to be arbitrarily resetting the price of the former on an almost daily basis). The prototype copies that I have ordered for myself would suggest that there are no quality issues to be concerned about.

Please click here for more information, and for details of all my titles.

Sunday 15 August 2021

Cockney Rebel Connections Radio Show Unearths a Gem


When I had the honour of putting a question to music legend Steve Harley during a recent radio show, I asked him whether he considered himself to be a seventies' artist who had managed to adapt his routine in order to keep going, or whether he saw himself as one who had simply begun at that time and who is continually evolving.

It was slightly mischievous because I knew the answer that he would give me, and he didn't disappoint. Even if it were true, no artist still wanting to make a living would announce himself as belonging to a bygone era. But in Harley's case the argument is incontestable. Some of his best material was written and recorded long after that glorious decade had hung up its sequinned loon pants (Ballerina, Irresistible, Heartbeat Like Thunder, Star for a Week, When I'm With You, The Lighthouse, A Friend for Life and Ordinary People to name just a few), and he continues to play to packed audiences comprising an unyieldingly faithful following at a rate which would be impressive for a man much younger than his 70 years. He is, in every sense, a developing artist. His voice today is, in his own words, "more emotional, more true to itself, more honest". And anyone who has seen the man perform live, as I have had the privilege of doing so many times, will testify that there is an innate timelessness about the entire experience.

But of course, his seventies' material spoke to me in a wholly different way – not because it was necessarily better, but because I was of "that" age when he recorded it. So whilst A Friend for Life, just to give one example, may stand favourable comparison with any of his earlier numbers, it is merely a brilliant song. It was not written about me, as Mr. Soft, Mr. Raffles and Judy Teen were written solely about me and the things I was going through during my formative years. In other words those special memories that I hold to my heart are down not to what he was doing in the 1970s, but to what I was doing.

Nocturnal defiance

Which is why I found episode 98 of the Cockney Rebel Connections radio show, featuring priceless if understandably unpolished audio footage (yes, "footage" is the correct noun - I checked!) of a 1976 interview with Peter Powell at Radio Luxembourg, uniquely engaging.

Stewart Griffin
For those of a certain age, Radio Luxembourg evokes fond memories of surreptitiously listening to a hand-held transistor under the bed covers in the wee small hours, when we were supposed to have been deep in slumber long before that time in preparation for the next day at school. My friend and fellow Rebel fan Stewart Griffin, whose unfailingly excellent show CRC is, is of a certain age. Which is why his recollections of this weekly act of nocturnal defiance tally precisely with my own.

The "footage" came by courtesy of a 45-year-old second-hand cassette recording, hence the slightly erratic sound quality. In fact the process of conveying audio from radio to cassette tape in the 1970s was itself the stuff of legend, typically involving both machines being located in close proximity to one another to ensure the best possible transmission of sound, along with the enforced silence of everybody else in the room for the entire duration of the broadcast. Background coughs were an irritation, if in retrospect an integral and organic feature of the whole operation. When a tape malfunctioned and became entangled in the mechanism of the cassette, the remedial process involved a pencil (don't ask!) and a whole lot of patience. In the imperfect, but eminently listenable product which the DJ has preserved against all odds for our enjoyment there is a gorgeous authenticity.

But the interview is itself vintage Harley, shocking self-confidence ("It's my voice, it's my song – take it or leave it!") and commendable humility somehow rolled into one as only a rising young superstar in the seventies, supremely comfortable in his own creative skin, could be expected to pull off. With his (then) latest single and LP, both entitled Love's a Prima Donna, providing the hook for the discussion, the singer-songwriter gives us a fascinating insight into the things that informed his emergence as one of the great lyrical and musical innovators of the day.

A calculated risk

Steve Harley

1976 was, of course, the year that Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel recorded Here Comes the Sun, the old George Harrison classic. According to Harley it was "a bit of a calculated risk" but as the long, hot summer bedded in it could not have been better timed. It was a clever, original interpretation of an already long-established masterpiece - always a risky venture but so very gratifying when it comes off. It came to define the year, and he still uses it as an opener at his gigs all these years on.

Perhaps the most instructive observation from an interview which was beguiling from start to finish was that, even back in those far off days, Harley considered his strength to lie in the special relationship which he felt he had with his audiences. He didn't care much for music critics ("Everything that's criticised, it's too late - the artist has already done his job"). Then, as now, his passion was to perform for those who appreciated him. Those who didn't were characters in another story, actors in another play - why was that any concern of his?

Any residual awkwardness which may have afflicted me after putting my question during the recent phone-in was truly swept away when the next caller asked him whether he regretted not having received the acclaim she felt he deserved. It was intended as a compliment, but inevitably came across in such a way that suggested he had somehow missed the boat. Nothing could be further from the truth. He has filled the Royal Albert Hall, packs most of the many venues that he plays ("You only sell out if the audience trusts you") and enjoys a following of whose fierce loyalty and dedication any artist would be proud. That he is on first name terms with so many of his fans should be acknowledged as a tribute to the love he has for them, not mistaken to be indicative that they are few in number. No other performer, to my knowledge, is as intimately engaged with his fan base as is Steve Harley.

No contradiction

Harley is, always has been and remains an evolving artist. There is no contradiction between recognising, and enjoying, that fact and reminiscing about the music and the memories that he gave us in the wake of glam back in the heady days of the mid-seventies. His music today sets new standards, he's not a man who believes in going backwards.

Whilst any comparison in terms of achievement would be absurd, I do find inspiration as a writer in this perennial artist's attitude to his work, to the way in which he has clearly identified his objectives and to his desire to reach his intended audience. As he tells Peter Powell, "I like to think I'm respected where it matters most - as long as you know me, what else matters?"

"There's an element of integrity to what I do," he continues. "I'm not going to do disco, just because it is in fashion. I don't follow trends, I'd rather create trends."

There is no greater achievement than to be true to oneself, to convey the sound of one's own soul. What a fine example Steve Harley has set, from the mid-'70s when we first came to know him right through to the present day.

To hear the 1976 Radio Luxembourg interview with Steve Harley in full, please click here.

Friday 23 July 2021

Introducing My New Author Page


Anyone looking for a change of scenery might wish to take a look at my new Author Page, where all of my current works are featured side by side for ease of reference. It features a handy contact form for enquiries and will run a regular blog featuring longer articles than would be the norm at this site. Please feel free to take a look by clicking here.